Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Kitchen God's wife

"Whenever my mother talks to me, she beings the conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument." This - classic - opening summarises much of what I enjoyed about the book: wit, sharp deliniation of relationships and especially their history, and a distinct atmosphere. I felt I was in the world of the book as I was reading it, immersed in a world I know very little about. I found Tan to be a compelling storyteller, even if there was rather more narrative sweep and rather less beautiful prose than I usually choose. But I enjoyed this as an overview of very different kinds of lives, with pressures that I've never encountered myself.

That said, much of the human relationship stuff seemed to me to be very true to life. The characters felt human, and very convincing in the nuances of their relationships. In particular, I enjoyed Winnie and Helen, with their rivalries and resentments and unwelcome or unacknowledged "favours" which, nevertheless, continue to colour their relationship decades on. Only Wen Fu and his family seemed without shades of grey, but that was of course part of the plot and didn't feel like lazy writing.

Having not read any Tan before, I was uneasy once Winnie's long monologue started, since I didn't know if Tan was playing it with a straight bat, or if this was going to be a postmodern novel where all that you've told turns out to be not true, or not told to the "hearer" Pearl at all, or some other such annoyance. Every time Winnie referred to Helen's inaccurate memory I wondered if this was softening me up for Winnie's memories being debunked. But thankfully it wasn't - seemed to be more of a verbal tic from Winnie and part of her loyal but scratchy relationship with Helen which, after all, is perfectly comprehensible once you know their history - and all ended conventionally. Phew.